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Florida Students Return to Schools Remodeled by Governor DeSantis’ Anti-Revival Education Program



CNN

After 15 years teaching second and third graders at Burney Elementary, a 350-student school 30 minutes from Tampa, Emily Lee set up her class this month to accommodate three- and four-year-olds in pre-K. It was a change she embraced, she said, a chance to get children on the right path in their educational journey from an early age.

But as instruction began across most of Florida last week, other changes have Lee worried about the new school year. Controversial laws have come into effect over the summer holidays that restrict how schools teach subjects related to race and sexual orientation. New avenues have been created for parents to sue teachers and challenge teaching materials. Mathematics textbooks were selected for traces of critical race theory. Schools will for the first time observe the “Day of the Victims of Communism”, during which high school students will receive anti-communist lessons.

Lee suddenly worries about the books she puts in her classroom library — or whether to have one at all — and wonders if a parent will complain if a student with two mothers shares stories from home during class hours.

“There’s never been this level of politics injected into our work,” Lee said.

Across the state, teachers like Lee are returning to classrooms that are now at the center of an escalating political divide. In the middle of the debate is Governor Ron DeSantis, the state’s Republican leader and a potential 2024 presidential candidate, who has sought to remove what he calls “woke ideology” from the classroom.

Leading the fight, DeSantis tapped into the same parental angst over classroom rules and the coronavirus school curriculum that fueled Republican Glenn Youngkin’s victory in Virginia last year, albeit to the nth degree. He has embarked on a large-scale effort to reshape school boards by endorsing about two dozen Conservative candidates who pledge support for his education agenda.

Recently, his administration told school districts to ignore new federal government guidelines aimed at protecting transgender students from discrimination.

“We have drawn a very clear line in the sand that says our school system is meant to educate children, not indoctrinate them,” DeSantis said last month in a strong call to arms for parents to join him. in his fight for education.

DeSantis’ remarks came during the inaugural summit of Moms for Liberty, a group that has mobilized women across the country to fight school boards over cultural touchstones, including programs they say push for a liberal curriculum or textbooks that they believe are inappropriate for children. The conference held in Tampa featured a lineup of Republican speakers and included panels that taught parents how to watch their children’s teachers and school staff on social media and provided tips for reviewing books from the library.

Brandt Robinson, a history teacher at Dunedin High School, believes he has already been the target of some of these surveillance efforts. He said a student enrolled in his African American history class last year but left days later, after which the student’s mother filed an objection with the district. based on the program. Robinson said he had to hand in his course materials during an exam.

“No doubt there will be teachers who just give the facts and where you normally have a tough discussion about our history or ask students to read excerpts from slave stories, maybe that teacher doesn’t will not be doing this activity,” Robinson said. “It’s easy to throw away labels. Our governor often talks about communism and accuses the teachers of indoctrination. It’s a very chilling image and brings me back to images of Joseph McCarthy in the 1950s.”

Opponents of these new laws also say they have diverted attention from other pressing issues facing school districts, including lack of funding. At least 18 Florida school districts are asking voters this year to approve referendums to win to help pay for capital costs such as new schools and maintenance and to raise teacher salaries.

Andrew Spar, president of the Florida Education Association, the state’s largest teachers’ union, said some teachers are leaving the profession instead of operating in this environment. He accused DeSantis and the groups that supported him of contributing to a teaching crisis that the union count left the state short of 9,000 educators this fall.

“Why would you accuse teachers of doing things they don’t do?” Spar asked. “These laws are based on lies. This adds to a general climate that turns teachers into villains.

The DeSantis administration disputes the departure of teachers because of these laws and said the union is exaggerating the number of vacancies. A more precise figure will be available later this month once the state has data on teacher vacancies for each school district, said Alex Lanfranconi, a spokesman for the Florida Department of Education.

Lanfranconi said the department has worked overtime to approve 7,700 new teacher certifications since July 29. Earlier this year, DeSantis signed a bill that allows military veterans to teach without a bachelor’s degree. Although passed unanimously by the state legislature, the new law has become a lightning rod for criticism on social media.

“You give me someone who has four years of experience as a [Marine] on someone who has four years of experience at Shoehorn U and I’ll take the Marine every weekday and twice on Sundays,” DeSantis said at a recent press conference.

Two new education laws that came into force on July 1 absorbed the bulk of the concern. One is a bill called Parental Rights in Education, which prohibits the teaching of sexual orientation and gender identity in grades K-3 or in a manner that is not “appropriate to age” in the other classes. Opponents dubbed the legislation the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, and its passage led to student walkouts, protests in the state capitol and an objection from Disney, the state’s largest employer.

The second new law is the Stop WOKE law. Although the bill does not mention critical race theory, its intent was to prevent teachings suggesting that a person is privileged or oppressed necessarily because of their race, gender, or national origin.

As well as fostering fierce divisions, opponents of the legislation say the new laws are also vague and have caused immense confusion over what is now allowed. For example, the legislation did not define “age-appropriate” teaching of sexual orientation.

Orange County discussed limiting LGBTQ “ally” symbols like rainbow lanyards and “Safe Space” stickers before telling teachers Aug. 1 that those items would not be banned. The Miami-Dade County School Board has back-and-forth over whether to use a certain health textbook for sex-ed classes after some parents objected to references to abortion and gender identity.

“The way the bills have been drafted has been left open to interpretation and the interpretation is in favor of parents who want to sue us,” said Hillsborough County School Board member Jessica Vaughn and democrat. “The result is that schools and teachers censor themselves.”

Sarasota County Republican School Board member Bridget Ziegler said some opponents of the legislation were intentionally interpreting the new laws in a way inconsistent with what the statutes actually say in hopes of getting sensational coverage.

“People say books are off limits,” Ziegler said. “But it’s not about banning, it’s about checking and making sure that the material – whether it’s a book, material, magazine or homework – that it hits the mark and is pedagogically relevant and appropriate.”

Much of the criticism, she said, “is very misplaced and aimed at creating a sense of fear. It’s used as a political ploy, and it’s to the detriment of our children.

Adding to the uncertainty, the state has yet to provide guidance on how schools should implement the Stop WOKE Act, said Broward County Public Schools spokesman John Sullivan. With over 260,000 students, the Broward district is one of the 10 largest in the country.

Opponents fear schools are teaching a watered down version of history that glosses over some of America’s most troubling times.

“We will continue to teach accurate, factual history,” Sullivan said, “and if we need to adjust anything based on the guidance, we will.”

DeSantis spokeswoman Christina Pushaw said the law is clear in that it requires the teaching of facts, not theories.

“That includes facts about slavery, Jim Crow laws and the civil rights movement,” Pushaw said. “African American history is American history, and it must be taught under Florida law.”


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